10 Lessons Learned in 10 Years: Redefining the Status Quo

Posted by Alison Carlman on August 30th, 2012

Ten years ago, Co-Founders Mari Kuraishi and Dennis Whittle launched GlobalGiving. In honor of these past ten years and in the spirit of one of our guiding core values, ‘Listen. Act. Learn. Repeat,’ we have launched a monthly blog series guest-written by former and current staff members. Each writer will speak candidly about their experience with GlobalGiving and offer up something that they have learned. This month Alexis Nadin, Senior Program Associate, shares three lessons she learned during her transition from an intern to a full-time team member.

Lesson 1: Ideas really can come from anyone, anywhere, at anytime. (Even GlobalGiving interns!)

If you ask any of my colleagues about my personality, they’ll probably tell you that I’m opinionated and demanding. I know that GlobalGiving can make an incredible difference in the world and I want to make sure that our organization is doing the best possible job in supporting our non-profit partners and communities around the world. So I try to set the bar high, for myself and everyone I interact with here at GlobalGiving.

What my colleagues probably don’t remember is that when I first started at GlobalGiving in 2008 as a Project Team Intern, I was not the demanding, opinionated Alexis that they know (and hopefully love) today. When I started at GlobalGiving 4 years ago, I was passionate about the organization’s mission but I was fully prepared to be a fly on the wall. After all, as your average over-achieving university student in Washington, DC, I had had plenty of internships at other organizations and government agencies. I knew my place as an intern—I was a phone answering, stapler wielding, memo editing drone. Right?

Wrong! It was clear after my first few days at GlobalGiving that I was not going to be playing the role of a glorified photocopier machine.  The Project Team was interested in my thoughts, opinions, and ideas. I was invited to take ownership of projects and give feedback on the team’s direction. I don’t remember much about that first semester I worked with GlobalGiving (after all, I was attending school full time and nannying on the side) but I do recall the feeling of having my thoughts and opinions matter. I remember feeling like a part of the team, even though I was “just” an intern. After that first semester, anytime someone asked me what I wanted to do with my life, I always answered “work for GlobalGiving.”

Lesson 2: Don’t ever underestimate what passionate social entrepreneurs can accomplish.

I was lucky to start interning with the Project Team at an exciting time. GlobalGiving would soon be hosting the first-ever Open Challenge, in which organizations would aim to raise $3,000 from 75 donors to remain on GlobalGiving’s site. But, like many others, I was skeptical. I mean, come on, small, grassroots organizations in developing countries around the world could never really mobilize 75 people to give them $3,000. Right?

Wrong again! That first Open Challenge was a huge success. Twenty organizations from places like Nepal, Madagascar, Philippines, and Sierra Leone raised more than $3,000 and secured a spot on GlobalGiving. Since then, GlobalGiving has hosted more than 30 Challenges and over 500 organizations have secured a spot on GlobalGiving through this process. (I’m sorry I ever doubted you, Manmeet!)

Today, I am a huge advocate for our Open Challenge process. (Check out this blog post I wrote about the rationale for the Open Challenge.) Over the past few years I have learned that social entrepreneurs are a powerful and capable force. Time and time again we have seen organizations beat the odds and accomplish truly incredible things with a little bit of faith, love, and support.

Lesson 3: It’s all about building relationships.

During that fateful first semester I interned at GlobalGiving, Marc (now GlobalGiving’s Innovation Consultant) announced that he would be testing out a new concept for monitoring projects.  He planned to identify select travelers to visit and verify GlobalGiving projects overseas. At the time I thought, “How silly of GlobalGiving, don’t they know that travelers aren’t qualified to visit their projects? That takes a degree and years of field experience.”

Despite my hesitations, I volunteered myself and my boyfriend, Brian to visit organizations in East Africa that summer. In two months, Brian and I visited 20 organizations in four countries. We met rats that are sniffing out landmines, paraded through the streets with 200 female microloan recipients, hung out with university scholarship recipients in Rwanda, and so much more.

During that summer, I learned the value of meeting face to face, of getting to know our partners’ stories and passions and concerns. I got to tell our partners that their feedback matters and that GlobalGiving wants to provide a platform that is meaningful and valuable (and of course, easy to use). And although I didn’t have a degree in M&E, I was still able to tell our partners that GlobalGiving is there for them–that there is a group of people in Washington, DC who care about their struggles and who want to help them and their communities.

Today, I am proud to manage GlobalGiving’s In the Field Program, which trains and sends well-qualified volunteers and interns into the field to visit our non-profit partners. Although the program has evolved since Brian and I were in the field 3 years ago, we continue to emphasize the value of relationship building. This is still one of the number one ways that GlobalGiving maintains close relationships with almost 2,000 partner organizations.

2 Responses to “10 Lessons Learned in 10 Years: Redefining the Status Quo”

  1. Donna says:

    Alexis Rocks. Truth.

  2. Dennis says:

    You set the standard at GG, Alexis!